Archive for ASP.NET

Things I’ve learned about SQL Server the hard way

In this post I am presenting a couple of things I’ve learned from the analysis of a problem, that manifested itself in an occasional HTTP 500 errors in production instance of an ASP.NET application. This time I don’t aim at exhaustively explaining every single point, because each of them could be a subject of a dedicated blog post.

The story begins with SQL error: SQLEXCEPTION: Transaction was deadlocked on lock resources with another process and has been chosen as the deadlock victim.

  1. In any reasonably modern version of SQL Server Management Studio there is an XEvent session system_health under ManagementExtended Events. It allows for viewing some important server logs, among which xml_deadlock_report in particularly interesting. It is very important to have an access to the production instance of database server in order to be able to watch the logs.
  2. System health XEvent session
  3. In this particular case, these xml_deadlock_reports contained one suspicious attribute: isolationlevel = Serializable (4) and the SQL code was a SELECT. I would not expect my SELECTs running with Serializable isolation level.
  4. Details of a deadlock
  5. The isolation level is an attribute of a connection between a client and the database server. A connection is called session in SQL Server terminology. An explicit BEGIN TRAN is not necessary for the isolation level to be applied. Every SQL statement runs in its own statement-wide transaction. However, for such narrow-scoped transactions, in practice it may not make any difference whether you raise the isolation level or not. The difference can be observed when a transaction is explicit and spans multiple SQL statements.
  6. The cause of setting the serialization level to Serializable was the behaviour of the TransactionScope [1]. If you use it, it raises the isolation level. It is just a peculiarity of this very API of the .NET framework. It is good to know this.
  7. SQL Server, at last in 2012 and some (I am not sure exactly which ones) later versions, does not reset the isolation level when ADO.NET disposes of a connection. A connection returns back to the connection pool [2] and is reused by subsequent SqlConnection objects unless they have different connection string.
  8. The connection pool size, if the connection pooling is active, poses the limit of how many concurrent connections to a database server a .NET application can make. If there are no free connections in the pool, an exception is thrown [3].
  9. Eliminating the usage of TransactionScope did not solve the issue. Even if you run SELECTs under the default Read Committed isolation level, these still issues Shared locks which may deadlock with Exclusive locks of UPDATEs. In any reasonably high production data traffic, where SELECTs span multiple tables, which are also very frequently updated, it is highly probable, that a deadlock will occur.
  10. The difference between running SELECT under Serializable isolation level and Read Committed level is that in the former, the locks are kept from the moment of executing the SELECT until the transaction ends. You can observe it by manually beginning a Serializable transaction, running any SELECT and observing dm_tran_locks DMV and only then committing (or rolling back, whatever) the transaction. With Read Committed level locks are not kept until an explicit transaction ends, they are released immediately after execution of a SELECT finishes. These are the same kind of locks, Shared locks. This implies one cannot observe the difference between executing a SELECT under Serializable and Read Committed, when there is no explicit transaction and thus, there is only a statement-wide transaction which releases locks immediately after the results are returned.
  11. Setting isolation level of Read Uncommitted is practically equivalent to running a SELECT WITH(NOLOCK) hint, even if you don’t explicitly open a transaction.
  12. In Entity Framework a SqlConnection is opened for every materialization of the query, the results are returned, and the connection is immediately closed and returned back to the pool [5]. The connection lifetime is by no means related to the scope of DbContext object. I can see a kind of similarity between how Entity Framework uses SqlConnections and how ASP.NET makes use of threads when executing async methods. A thread is released on every await and can be used for doing something more valuable than waiting. Similarly, a SqlConnection is released right after materialization and can be used for executing different command, in different request (in case of ASP.NET) even before DbContext is disposed of.
  13. It is not that obvious how to reset the isolation level of the connection. You see, every time your C# code using Entity Framework results in sending a SQL to the SQL Server, it can take different connection from the pool (if anyone knows if there is any ordering applied when retrieving connections from the pool, please feel free to comment). It may or may not be the same connection you used previously. Consequently, it is not easy to ‘catch’ the underlying connection using Entity Framework. You can call BeginTransaction every time you use DbContext, and then you are guaranteed to own the connection for all your SQL commands. But that way you are forcing opening transaction when you don’t really need one. What I recommend is to handle StateChange event of DbConnection object as described in [4]. You can do it either on opening the connection or on closing it.
  14. In SQL Server you can monitor open sessions with the following query:
        DB_NAME(s.database_id) as DbName,
        case s.transaction_isolation_level
                WHEN 0 THEN 'Unspecified'
                WHEN 1 THEN 'ReadUncommitted'
                WHEN 2 THEN 'ReadCommitted'
                WHEN 3 THEN 'RepeatableRead'
                WHEN 4 THEN 'Serializable'
                WHEN 5 THEN 'Snapshot'
        end as Level,
        s.session_id as Session
    from sys.dm_exec_sessions s
    where DB_NAME(s.database_id) <> 'master'
    order by s.last_request_end_time desc;  



A few random ASP.NET Core and .NET Core tips

I’ve been working with .NET core recently and I’d like to post some random observations on this subject for the future reference.

  1. It is possible to create Nuget package upon build. This option is actually available also from the VS2017 Project properties GUI. Add this code to csproj.

  2. It is possible to add local folder as Nuget feed. The folder can also be current user’s profile. This one is actually not Core specific. Nuget.config should look like this:

    < ?xml version="1.0" encoding="utf-8"?>
  3. You can compile for multiple targets in .NET Core compatible csproj. Please note the trailing s in the tag name. You can also conditionally include items in csproj. Use the following snippets:




    There is a reference documentation for the available targets: here.

  4. The listening port in Kestrel can be configured in multiple ways. It can be read from environment variable or can be passed as command line argument. An asterisk is required to bind to physical interfaces. It is needed e.g. when trying to display the application from mobile phone when being served from development machine. The following are equivalent:

    set ASPNETCORE_URLS=http://*:11399
    --urls http://*:11399
  5. The preferred way to pass hosting parameters to Kestrel is launchSettings.json file located in Properties of the solution root. You can select a profile defined there when running:

    dotnet run --launch-profile "Dev"

    dotnet run is used to build and run from the directory where csproj resides. It is not a good idea to run the app’s dll directly. Settings file can be missing from bin folder and/or launch profile may not be present there.

Enabling the net.tcp protocol in WCF running on top of IIS — the checklist

Windows Communication Foundation is becoming sort of obsolete in favor of ASP.NET Web API, which has been advertised as primary technology for building web services. However, the latter obviously cannot serve as a full equivalent of the former. WCF still is a powerful technology for enterprise class service oriented architecture. For that purposes, the decision of switching the transport protocol from http to net.tcp sooner or later must be made clearly for performance reasons. From my experience I can tell having 100% working configuration of a service hosted inside the IIS is surprisingly hard and a developer has to face a series of quirks to bring the services back to life. Let’s sum up all the activities that can help make a service working with the net.tcp.

  1. WCF Non-HTTP Activation service must be installed in Add/Remove programs applet of the Control Panel. It is not obvious, that it is a component of the operating system itself, not of the IIS.
  2. The TCP listener processes must be running. Check netstat -a to see if there is a process listening on the port of your choice (the default is 808), check the following system services and start them if need be: Net.Tcp Listener Service and Net.Tcp Port Sharing. I have observed cases, where those services were unexpectedly shut down, e.g. after restart of the operating system.
  3. IIS management: the application must have net.tcp protocol enabled in its properties, as well as the site must have bindings for that protocol configured. If you have large number of services you can use my simplistic C# program which parses the IIS global configuration file — applicationHist.config. Link to my OneDrive
  4. If this is first try of enabling the net.tcp protocol, run the following tools to ensure the components of the .NET Framework are correctly set up: c:\Windows\Microsoft.NET\Framework\v4.0.30319\aspnet_regiis.exe -i and c:\Windows\Microsoft.NET\Framework\v4.0.30319\servicemodelreg.exe -ia. Use Framework64 for 64 bit system.
  5. Make sure that you are not running on the default endpoint configuration. The default configuration can be recognized in the WSDL of the service. It contains <msf:protectionlevel>EncryptAndSign</msf:protectionlevel> code which is responsible for default authorization settings. These defaults manifest themsevles in a strange symptom of the service working in Test Client and not working in target client application. It is caused by Test Client having successfully recognized default binding configuration from WSDL whereas the target application uses your custom configuration and it is very likely these two do not match.
  6. Check for the equality of the service names in an .svc file and in the Web.config file (assuming that declarative binding is used instead of programmatically created one) in section <system.serviceModel> -> <services> -> <service>
  7. Make sure that IIS has created a virtual directory for the application. Create it from Visual Studio by pressing appropriate button in the application’s properties.

Quick-tip: Using newest Entity Framework assembly in ASP.NET MVC 4

For me it has been kind of unexpected behavior. When I update NuGet package, I get newest Entity Framework binaries. Today it is version 5.0. However, default MVC template targets .NET version 4.0. Newest version of Entity Framework for .NET 4.0 is 4.4. The NuGet package contains both assemblies, but the project will use 4.4 because the project targets .NET 4.0 by default. Furthermore, simply changing target runtime version in project properties is not enough. What finally has worked for me was manually editing .csproj file. I located assembly reference in XML and changed path in HintPath tag from \lib\net40\EntityFramework.dll to \lib\net45\EntityFramework.dll. The conclusion is to pay close attention to what particular version of assembly is actually being referenced and not relying only on NuGet versioning.